Some people like to exercise in the wee hours of the morning before the rest of the world has woken up. Others prefer to wait until the evening, ending their day with a vigorous workout instead. Which is the best in terms of performance and results? Well, that depends on a number of factors, not the least of which is personal preference.
Researchers haven’t found a distinct advantage over working out in the morning versus working out in the evenings, at least in terms of the number of calories burned. Studies have generally indicated that all other factors being equal, you’ll burn roughly the same number of calories no matter which time of day you choose to exercise. That said, there are less tangible benefits that are harder to quantify but can have an impact on how well you perform, and ultimately those variables will help you to decide when you should go for a run, ride your bike, or hit the gym.
Benefits of an A.M. Workout
One of the main perks that comes from working out in the morning is consistency. Studies have shown that people who start their day with an exercise session generally are more consistent with their workout schedule in part because as the day goes on, other factors can prevent you from finding time to get to the gym. But when it is part of our morning routine, we tend to stick with the plan more closely.
Additionally, if you’ve had a good night’s sleep, you might be more energized and ready to go in the morning than you would be if you waited until later in the day. That can equate to better performance on a run or bike ride for instance, as opposed to an evening workout when your energy levels might be waning.
Morning exercisers are also more likely to have a healthy breakfast, as their bodies will be craving food after a tough workout. Those of us who tend to sleep in might not take the time to eat something nutritious, but if you just finished an intense run or gym session you’ll need to refuel before launching into the rest of your day.
Finally, those who prefer a morning workout also tend to report feeling much more energized in the early part of the day. While the rest of us are still waking up and grabbing that first cup of coffee, they have already finished an intense cardio or strength session, have grabbed a hot shower, and are getting ready to take on the other challenges of the morning. But they do so with more vigor than those of us who hit the snooze button a few times.
Benefits of a P.M. Workout
Just as there are positive benefits from working out in the morning, there are some good things to be gained from hitting the gym later in the day too. For instance, some people have a difficult time shaking off the lethargy that follows a long sleep, and as a result their bodies aren’t as strong and energetic in the morning as they are in the afternoon or evening. That can lead to subpar performance during a workout, which means fewer calories burned (and could potentially lead to injuries too). For these types of people, it is better to wait until your body is fully awake and ready to go before engaging in an intense workout.
Exercise can also be a good way to deal with the stress of the day, helping to put the challenges of work, family, and the daily grind behind you. Taking all of the tension that you’ve built up throughout the day and channeling it into exercise is good for both your body and mind. Stress can lead to the buildup of cortisol in the body, which studies have linked to weight gain. A brisk workout can prevent that from happening while helping to clear your mind as well. Think of it as a workout for your physical and mental well-being.
Studies have also shown that there may be environmental factors that help make working out in the afternoon a better option. As temperatures warm up, it stimulates enzyme activity in the body, which helps muscles to perform more efficiently. This occurs later in the afternoon and early evening, suggesting that your body may find it easier and more effective to exercise during that part of the day too.
It seems obvious that good arguments exist in favor of both working out in the morning and the evening, but ultimately it comes down to what you prefer. Over time, your body will adapt to whichever schedule you choose, and that is the time of day when you’ll exercise most efficiently. So in the end, there really isn’t one part of the day that is better than any other. Only a time that works best for you.